Cultivating Your Online Reputation to Boost Patient Retention

dandelionI live in the Chicago suburbs, and during this time of year, everyone is outside working on their lawns. Right now, my lawn looks beautiful—lush and green, free of weeds and carefully mowed in attractive lines. Call me lawn-obsessed, but when I see a dandelion appear in the middle of my pristine lawn, I’m out there with a trowel ready to dig it up. As the summer gets hotter, our lawn must be watered as much as possible within the limits established by our town, so it doesn’t become a yellow, brittle mess.

Just like a suburban lawn, the online reputation of small businesses, including medical providers, must be judiciously maintained. Bad reviews can be like those pesky dandelions—no matter how pretty the rest of the lawn is, just a few of them can be what visitors to your home see first.

Everyone knows that online business review sites like Yelp have the potential to make or break small businesses. I personally use Yelp all the time to help me choose a restaurant, salon, or landscaping service. But what about when it’s time to choose a medical provider?

A recent study reports that patients are using online reviews more than ever as a first step when choosing a healthcare provider—up to nearly 70% from a reported 25% in 2013. Even when hearing about a new doctor from family or friends, it is highly likely that new patients will also check out the reviews of a practice before making an appointment. Online reviews also have the power to draw patients who may not have otherwise considered your practice as an option. For example, this survey found that good online reviews are nearly as important as being in-network, with a whopping 49% of respondents stating that they would leave an in-network provider for an out-of-network provider based on reviews alone.  Simply put, the online reputation of your practice is increasingly becoming the first impression patients get.

There are many review sites specifically for patients to find a doctor, then later rate and review their medical provider experiences, including,, and These sites typically provide a four or five-star rating system and allow patients to rate providers on things like wait time, bedside manner, follow-up, and other aspects of their visit.

The perception of many businesses is that people only write online reviews if they have had a negative experience; however, at least regarding reviews of medical practices, this is not the case. In fact, a recent University of Michigan study found that 81% of online medical provider reviews were neutral to positive in nature.   Although a bad review can send your overall rating into a tailspin, most savvy readers can determine an honestly bad experience from an angry customer with an axe to grind. The available data suggests that many people tend to disregard reviews that seem exaggerated or unreasonable.

So how can a practice optimize its online reputation?

First, Provide A Top-Notch Patient Experience

Let’s get the obvious out of the way. No amount of playing around with your online reputation will help if you have crazy-long wait times, if your staff is indifferent or rude to patients, or if your check-in and payment process is a major hassle. Many of these customer-service related issues could be addressed by updating some of your practice and revenue-cycle management technology to platforms designed around fostering price transparency and positive patient experiences.

Respond (Carefully) to Bad Reviews

No matter what, bad reviews will most likely pop up from time to time. When they do, it’s essential to deal with them promptly, and carefully. In other words, don’t get out your metaphorical shovel, ready to yank them forcefully out. It’s understandable that reading negative reviews about the practice you’ve worked so hard to build may be upsetting. That’s why you should not respond to bad reviews right away, when your emotions are still fresh. Take time to consider the root of the complaint then diagnosis the symptoms and respond as diplomatically as possible.

The best way to respond to negative reviews is to make a broad apology, then let the reviewer know you will contact them privately to discuss their concerns. That way, you let the public know you care through a visible response, but you also can avoid any HIPAA violations by addressing specifics out of the public eye.

Encourage Good Reviews

In the past, some medical providers have worked to discourage online reviews in order to reduce damage to their online reputations—but this is not the answer.  The better choice to encourage all patients to review your practice, even offering incentives for those who do so. Believe it or not, more online reviews are good for your practice. Also, having many positive reviews will work to “cancel out” any bad reviews—driving up your overall rating.

The numbers don’t lie--  72% of consumers say that positive reviews make them trust a local business more. As stated previously, the majority of online reviews for medical practices are positive or neutral, and even negative reviews can provide practices with useful feedback they can use to troubleshoot patient-identified issues and make improvements.

To Conclude…

Hopefully soon you’ll have new patients walking in the door after reading your glowing online reviews. That’s a step in the right direction, but new patients mean very little if you can’t retain them. Just as your beautiful lawn will wither and die if you fail to maintain it properly, so too will your practice suffer if you don’t practice effective patient retention strategies. Check out our recent whitepaper, “The Positive Link Between Increasing Empowerment and Improving Patient Retention” for lots of helpful information and handy patient retention tips.